ISME Facebook
ISME Twitter
ISME Instagram
ISME YouTube
Home / News / The Music Educator and Social Justice: Challenges and Commitments.
Magali Kleber
The Music Educator and Social Justice: Challenges and Commitments.
30 Dec 2017
Magali Kleber

Since 2002, I have been researching social projects, specifically non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Brazilian music education. Several studies have highlighted the importance of music in the development of the socio-cultural identity of peripheral, poor populations such as those who live in slums (Fialho, 2003; Kleber, 2006a; Kleber 2006b; Kleber, Souza, 2013; Kleber, M.O.,Lichtensztajn, D.; Gluchankof. C. 2013). The purpose of this article is to discuss the musical education practices developed by NGOs that have a commitment to social equality. The central point of this discussion is how the participants best use the engagement created with a music educator to support and empower their own lives and communities.


I would like to begin this article by explaining my choice to focus on the music educator instead of the music education field. The reason is that the focus on the field is understood in both its conceptual and academic dimensions. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that a consistent framework is needed to address the issue of social justice. You may think: "We need a consistent structure!" I really agree! But in this article, I want to focus on the human being, the music educator, who as a social actor, with training in social work and pedagogical practices, can promote a difference in the lives of poor communities. The academic knowledge produced in universities by researchers committed to this field is fundamental to provide a framework and basis for developing a meaningful intervention. However, that alone is not enough because we also need the intervention of the human being to face the challenges. Of course, there are many challenges involved in being a music educator such as getting involved, working closely with people, knowing about their daily routine, their culture, and their values and needs. This close relationship is necessary in order to share the important demands linked to promoting social change and, perhaps, a social impact on public policy.

In Brazil, the greatest challenge for arts education can be seen in formal and non-formal contexts. The government has not yet found a solution to include arts education in basic education. Thus, not all public schools have qualified teachers or the necessary structure to cover this field.

Therefore, implementing public policy as to which arts education shall be guaranteed for all students is one of the greatest challenges for the Brazilian government. This is especially so as it influences the segment with the highest level of discrimination and social exclusion. The poorest population, from the urban periphery, does not have access to theatres, museums or cinemas, impoverishing the cultural level of this social stratum. The axis of poverty/development, sometimes clearly articulated as such, has not only played a key role in these aesthetic debates but also attributed to aesthetic disputes, a structuring aspect of social dynamics. It is important to highlight the relationship between poverty reduction on the one hand, and culture and artistic praxis on the other. Such a point of view makes sense to educators who are committed to social change through their job as researcher, musician and artist. 

The data below reveals a concrete Brazilian context showing that there is significant social injustice linked to genre and social class:

The Atlas of Violence 2017, launched by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) and the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, reveals that men who are young, black and of low education are the main victims of violent deaths in the country (78.9%) among the 10% of the individuals most likely to be victims of homicides. The study shows that young black men continue to be murdered every year as if they were in a war situation. Other data reveal the persistence of the relationship between race and violence in Brazil. While non-black people mortality (white, Asian and indigenous) fell by 7.4% between 2005 and 2015, among black women the rate rose by 22%. Currently, 71 people out of every 100 murdered in Brazil are black. According to information from the Atlas, blacks have a 23.5% higher chance of being murdered than Brazilians of other races, regardless of age, schooling, sex, marital status and neighborhood of residence. Reference

This is official data linking social injustice, the rights of human beings, social exclusion and the extermination of people. This data demonstrates our current reality and is directly related to discrimination in many aspects, such as the stigma of the skin colour and the place where one lives. Origin and place of residence appear in the reports about violence on the Brazilian youth male identities. Araujo (2006) explains the distance between the academic concepts and social practices, using “violence as a concept, rather than as a descriptive category”, in socio-musical research. His work describes the context of a slum in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It draws upon dialogic research on music, memory and sociability, in which ethnomusicologists act as mediators between academic knowledge and a group of young community members. These youths define problems as a protagonist of the process, developing conceptual tools to deal with them. He highlights discrepancies between the academic world and communities:

Symbolic violence has also appeared in the form of concepts about local practices. However, they are conceived from socially legitimised external visions, such as academic discourse or state agencies, which "freeze", so to speak, social practices, failing to recognise or, according to Bourdieu (1997), mistakenly "recognising" dynamic practical strategies, and presenting them as relatively "closed" categories that make sense in the real world. This has serious implications since discussions among researchers that are living in Maré shanty towns have revealed particular local uses of seemingly established categories. These have different meanings in academia, side by side with the use of categories of local wide use that remain excluded from the academic studies of exclusion and violence in Maré shanty towns. Consequently, a question has been raised in relation to the pertinence or even the relative harmlessness of many labels and approaches centered on the established categories (samba, ‘forró’, funk, etc.) that permeate the literature on popular musical cultures in Brazil, face to face with an extremely significant, though largely ignored, sound praxis that moves the daily struggles for physical and emotional survival. Reference

The social groups that live in peripheral urban regions and slums reveal that they lived in miserable situations related to stigma. The implications for the epistemological field of music education are reflected on the acknowledgement that the production of pedagogic musical knowledge should consider the multiple contexts of the social reality and dissolve hierarchical categories of cultural values. In order to do that, it is necessary to examine the dominant artistic and pedagogical categories, questioning and decreasing the limit of evaluation and judgment of musical practices. Moreover, it is important to re-examine the relationship between knowledge from the popular culture and the one considered by the academy, as proposed by the field of music education.
The necessity of bringing together the academic world and the community is recognised as a challenge for researchers and educators. Thus, it is necessary to think about this issue as another project that is committed to social change and human rights. The approach that I defend is that knowledge emerges from the dialectical nature between the academic world and common sense. This aspect has been considered since we recognized the need for the university to be in close contact with society and its social problems in order to enhance and expand knowledge in the dynamic of social movements.

I have been involved with music education in the social context and have points of view that are connected to my doctoral research, Music Education Practice in Non-Governmental Organisiations (NGOs): two case studies in the Brazilian urban context, concluded in 2006, and to my post-doctoral research, concluded in 2010. After two decades, the motivation for this theme relies on the fact that social projects in Brazil have been the focus of new socio-cultural developments and have been structured in parallel to the work going on at the universities. This large experience has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge about emergent challenges for music educators who work in vulnerability contexts. In countries like Brazil, where inequality and discrimination create a huge gap between poor and rich people, where human rights are far from the acceptable condition, the commitment to social justice is one of the first requirements of being an educator.

The main point of these socio-pedagogical proposals has been music learning and teaching activities for people from underserved communities and/or in social risk situations. I believe that the construction of these socio-educational processes should be seen as a product of the correlation between the contents and methodologies with concepts studied at the institutions along with the community musical practices. The musical practices in these contexts are revealed to be meaningful structural elements of the social groups.

This aspect has been considered since we recognise the need for the university to be in close contact with the society and its social problems in order to enhance and expand knowledge in the dynamic of social movements. Such situations, when focusing on the educational aspect, are supposed to lead to issues of political, ethical and institutional order and, in the case of music, the aesthetic. Understanding the relations of social ability from different dimensions of society and thinking about possible correlations with the pedagogical projects of arts education has manifested as challenges in Brazil. I believe that the construction of socio-educational processes should be seen as a product of the correlation between contents and methodologies with conceptions studied at the institutions, and the musical practices from the communities.

It is a challenge to a music educator to recognise and work within a political position formed from results.

Fialho, Vânia A Malagutti. (2003). Hip hop sul: um espaço televisivo de formação e atuação musical. (Dissertação de Mestrado em Educação Musical) Porto Alegre: Programa de Pós-Graduação em Música, Instituto de Artes, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. 186 f.

Kleber, M. O. (2006a) Music education practice in Non-Governmental Organizations: two case studies in Brazilian urban context (Doctoral Dissertation, Departamento de Música, Instituto de Artes, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, 2006). Available: . Accessed May, 02, 2014.

Kleber, M. O. (2006b). “Music Education in Practice in Non-Governmental Organization: Two Case Studies in Brazilian Urban Context.” in Coffman, D. & Higgins, L. (Eds.) Creating Partnerships, Making Links, and Promoting Change: Proceedings from the International Society for Music Education (ISME) 2006, ISME Seminar of the Commission for Community Music Activity: 102–110.

Kleber, M.O, Souza, J. (2013)The Musical Socialization of Children and Adolescents in Brazil in their Everyday Lives. In:Campell, P.; Wiggins, T. (Ed,)The Oxford Handbook of Children's Musical Cultures. London: Oxford Press.

Kleber, M.O.,Lichtensztajn, D.; Gluchankof. C) (2013b. Diverse Communities, Inclusive Practice. In: Veblen, K.; Stephen, J. M.; Silverman, M.; Elliot, D. (Eds) “Community Music Today”. UK:Rowman & Littlefield Education :231-238.